And, I simply don’t understand why/how otherwise strong leaders accept becoming members of committees that end up:
- little more than a standing meeting,
- the place where change goes to die,
- a bureaucratic tool to slow and/or water down innovation, and/or
- a place to feign collaboration without requiring real action.
Now, I have also sat on some great committees, and it is these positive experiences that really highlighted for me how to make a committee work, so that bringing leaders together can be powerful rather than neutralizing.
So to start, here are a few red flags (sadly from lived experience) that might inspire some critical reflection on your committee work:
Red Flag: When I ask you what you do as an organization, collaborative, or initiative, and you lead with how many committees you have…
Red Flag: When I ask you what your committee does and you tell me when and where it meets…
Red Flag: When I ask you how long you have been on a committee and you can’t really remember…
Red Flag: When I ask you who else is on the committee and you include the people who used to, or only occasionally still, show up to the meetings…
Red Flag: When I ask you what a typical meeting is like and the long, meandering answer you kindly attempt to offer can be summed up by “we talk about stuff”…
Whether you enjoy working through committees, volunteering to serve on them, or you reluctantly have them imposed on you, it’s important to be mindful that they are merely means; they are not ends. A committee is not an outcome. It’s not a product.
A committee is an operational tactic, not a strategy.
So, here are a few thoughts on how to start and end a committee so that it serves its function and doesn’t linger:
- Set 1-3 clear, SMART goals. Write them down and have them present in every meeting.
- Commit to the timeframe for carrying out these goals. When this timeframe is up, the committee should vote on whether or not to continue, and do so with a full (but brief) review of the committee purpose, membership, and process.
- Agree upon a decision-making structure from the start. Understanding a decision process and who actually has the last word can help ensure a committee stays focused and doesn’t just end up meeting.
- Instill a shared excitement on what the committee can accomplish and the collective aspiration for the committee to be dissolved. We should really not celebrate the creation of a committee, but rather its successful dissolution.
The two most successful committees I have been a part of followed these four key recommendations. The ones that have not (and they are many) have ended up lost, without focus, evolved into “standing” committees and, perhaps most humorously, rebranded themselves as “working groups” without making any real process adjustments.
With all there is to accomplish in our schools and communities, we simply cannot afford to let our leadership die in committee.